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How To Attend A Film Festival

February 04, 2011 1:40 PM
As we enter film festival season, I've been thinking about how incredibly electric the film festival experience is. Sure, Sundance and Cannes may seem out of many people's reach, but those aren't the only film festivals around. Chances are, your neck of the woods has its own film festivals that you don't event know about. Or maybe you do know about them, but you've never known the ins and outs of attending. I'm here to give you the low-down on what it's like to partake in film festivals.

First, why attend film festivals? As independent arthouse theaters close across the country, it's become harder and harder to seek out original, independent film. Film festivals keep the spirit of the independent film alive and they're the best way to experience film as a true art form. You can start by checking out what film festivals are happening in your area by clicking 'Festival' under the 'Film' tab at  For instance, for those in the Northern California area, don't miss the 4th San Joaquin International Film Festival.
Opening Night is on March 17 and kicks off with the Italian film "The First Beautiful Thing."

Once you've found a festival in your area, follow these tips for making the most of your festival-going experience:

Research. Because films screening at festivals have, for the most part never been seen by the general public, these are rarely films you've ever heard of. Big films with wide releases have a huge marketing machine behind them (previews on T.V., celebrities on late-night talk shows and Entertainment Tonight, and ads on billboard and magazines). Films at festivals don't have this kind of marketing, so it's up to you to search stuff out. The best way to do this is to go to the film festival's website, or pick up a guide and read about the films. If something catches your eye, look on YouTube for a trailer. Sometimes you'll get lucky and find one.
Other times, films have been to festivals prior, so there may be online reviews about the film.

Make an event out of it. Film festivals have a lot more excitement around them than your average movie screening at the Cineplex. Go out to dinner with friends before the film. Get a drink or two. Wander around the neighborhood the festival's in. Chances are good you'll run into other festival goers, making the atmosphere that much more exciting.

Get to the theater early. Popular screenings at film festivals fill up pretty fast. Many people purchase passes to the entire festival. The media, as well as other V.I.P.s also attend with passes. If you arrive to the theater late, even though you have a ticket, your seat may have been filled with a pass-holder. Plus, many festivals have a strict no-late-seating policy. If the film has already started, you may not be let into the theater. It's generally a good idea to get to the screening 30 minutes in advance.
Show respect. You wouldn't believe the amount of people who think it's okay to text on their phone or talk to their neighbor while a film is playing. Of course you would never do this, but if you see someone doing it, politely say something.

Get into it. One of my favorite things about festival films is that people clap at the end if they liked it. You rarely see this at normal movie theaters.

Stick around for the credits. Most people who attend festivals go because they love movies. Unless you're in a hurry for some reason, stick around for the credits. The main reason is, sometimes there's a special guest. The first festival film I ever went to, I didn't realize there were going to be special guests. After the credits were over, the director and two actors from the film I just saw came out onto stage to talk about it.

Discuss. Many times festival goers go out for coffee or drinks after a screening to discuss the film and talk about what other films they have or will be attending. Do this. It'll be worth your while. You'd be surprised how the shared love of film makes strangers temporary (or permanent) friends.

Posted by Cal


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